The cracks in Zinedine Zidane’s usually stoic demeanour in press conferences began to show last Saturday week.
The frustration was understandable. Zidane is the man that led Madrid to three consecutive Champions League titles. He deserves time, and respect.
However, the Madrid-based press pack are entitled to worry; the club’s fans even more so. Since snapping at concerned journalists on November 21, Madrid’s performances have only worsened.
They may have triumphed at Inter last week but that game was gifted to them by the stupidity of Arturo Vidal, who earned himself a senseless first-half red card for dissent.
On Saturday, Madrid were beaten at home by mid-table Alaves, meaning the Spanish titleholders have now gone three games without a win in La Liga.
And now they’ve suffered an even more devastating defeat, losing 2-0 to Shakhtar Donetsk, thus leaving their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League last 16 hanging in the balance.
Zidane may well claim that Madrid had more of the ball and created more chances but such excuses just won’t cut it.
Eden Hazard and Sergio Ramos were significant absentees but a club of Real’s resources shouldn’t be relying on two players to defeat this version of Shakhtar. Remember, the Ukrainians hadn’t scored a Champions League goal since winning in Madrid on matchday one.
They’d also been thoroughly humiliated by Borussia Monchengladbach in their last two games, losing 6-0 at home to the Germans and 4-0 away, yet Madrid, with Karim Benzema back in the starting line-up, carried very little attacking threat at the Kiev Olympic Stadium.
Truth to be told, once they conceded, they never really looked like recovering. In fact, there was a certain inevitability about Shakhtar punishing them again on the break.
Madrid’s arguably surprising Liga triumph last season was founded upon excellent defending but, as recent results have underlined, if you take Sergio Ramos out of the back four, the Spanish champions are always prone to collapse.
Certainly, Raphael Varane looks utterly lost without his central defensive partner and the French World Cup winner was again found wanting for Dentinho’s 57th-minute opener in Ukraine.
The use of Lucas Vazquez at right-back was also exposed as folly by another substitute, Manor Solomon, who was allowed to cut inside far too easily before firing past Thibaut Courtois.
That Vazquez was vulnerable was hardly a surprise either. His unsuitability to the role was highlighted by Madrid legend Predrag Mijatovic after the Alaves loss, with the Serb openly questioning Zidane’s tactics.
“He must fix the situation but this begins when you prepare for the match,” the 1998 Champions League hero told Cadena SER. “You should know that Alaves’ three forward players are their strength.
“So if you have Lucas Vazquez, who was more advanced against Inter, when he played a good game, you can’t put him as a full-back because you have a (Eder) Militao who could play there.
“I don’t know what’s happened to that kid because he doesn’t play either as a centre-back or a full-back. So, then you have Lucas Vazquez as your full-back, with Marco Asensio in front of him, when you know that Asensio can’t help him as much as any other player.”
Whether Zidane likes it or not, there will be another public inquest after the Shakhtar setback, which now means that Real will likely have to better the Ukrainians result on matchday six to reach the knockout stage.
He admitted at the weekend that he had “no explanation” for Madrid’s rotten run of form. He needs to find an answer fast, though, because the difficult questions are only going to increase.
Source : goal.com